The show is derived from interviews with humanitarian aid workers about the Impossible. The Impossible is the place where things that are available to you and I – in the land of the Possible – have disappeared.
A timely, moving, troubling and mysterious show
We start in the land of the Possible - the aid workers are being interviewed by the actors who are going to stage this performance. The workers are sophisticated, witty, and ironic. But as the show progresses, the land of Possible becomes increasingly distant.
Cross currents and themes emerge in the stories. There is the gulf between the Impossible and explaining it to others. One worker describes how returning home he wants to enjoy a normal life with friends, food and parties. But his friends always ask him for an exciting story, and he always falls for it, so tells a story – and it always ruins the party. One aid worker tells the story of how she learned the importance of dignity for the dead. Sometimes there’s an element of uplift; how an aid worker's life was saved because she had saved a young boy earlier; how a childhood song prevented a group of women in a dangerous situation being overwhelmed by fear. Some stories are almost metaphysical - a mother keeps her son alive in her mind because, after forty years, he has still not been found. The aid worker calls her every year to let her know they are still looking. Or how an aid worker managed to arrange a ceasefire between warring commanders to collect an injured boy, and how she thought about climbing the mountain so slowly that the ceasefire ran to days, months, years.
The stories show the Impossible as a world, and just as complex, varied, intractable, confusing and paradoxical as anywhere else in the human world. The aid workers giving help to the remaining victims of genocide are dependent on the military and officials that had committed the genocide. There’s the hospital ward, built in the room where women had been chained to the floor for use as sex slaves.
The four actors give an incredible range of emotion, travelling from urbane to anger, to horror, to gratitude, to stories of guilt, despair and personal strength. Musically, there are evocative and chilling electronic sounds and some terrific singing from one of the cast. Soundscapes are provided by a post-rock drummer on stage. Personally, I’d have been happy with less drumming. Post-rock is great for crescendos, but to me, it undermined the complexity and subtlety of the overall show.
An ever present question for the audience is ‘why do the aid workers do it?’ It’s ‘just a job’ one says, another mentions excitement. But we are shown the sacrifices and personal cost involved. There is no logical explanation; but perhaps the audience gets a sense of an emotional one in the final harrowing story of the baby in the storm-swept hospital tent.
In a time when complex issues are degraded to clickbait, this is a timely, moving, troubling and mysterious show.